‘There can be no doubt whatsoever that Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians are socially known and treated as distinct groups within their own religious communities and are invariably regarded as ‘socially inferior’ communities by their co-religionists,’ the report said.
Universally practiced forms of discrimination and exclusion include social and cultural segregation, expressed in various forms of refusal to have any social interaction; endogamy, expressed through the universal prohibitions on Dalit-non-Dalit marriages and through severe social sanctions on both Dalits and non-Dalits, who break this taboo.
The study said social segregation also extended to the sphere of worship and religious rituals, with separate churches and priests being almost the norm among Dalit Christians and not uncommon among Dalit Muslims.
‘In short, in most social contexts, Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians are Dalits first and Muslims and Christians only second,’ it said.
Forms common to both Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians include various modes of subordination in churches and mosques, as well as insistence on separate burial grounds.
Occupational segregation and economic exploitation are also very common and usually related practices, though somewhat less widespread than segregation or marriage bans.
Untouchability is sometimes practiced, but is not widespread, and its’ forms vary greatly, the report says.
The study also endorsed the Sachar committee report that Dalit Muslims were the worst off as compared to Dalit Christians and their counterparts in other communities like Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs.
Their condition was worse in urban areas, it said.
Dalit Muslims are completely absent in the affluent group for urban India, it added.
The report said there was enough evidence to justify the Scheduled Caste status for both the disadvantaged sections.
‘If no community had already been given SC status, and if the decision to accord SC status to some communities were to be taken today through some evidence-based approach, then it is hard to imagine how Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians could be excluded,’ it said.
According to the study, the main judicial obstacle to the recognition of Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims as SCs appears to have been the lack of the appropriate kind of evidence regarding their relative status.
‘The encouraging sign here is that the courts have not refused to entertain this line of argument, they have only asked for proof beyond mere caste identity. While there are important issues of evidence still to be clarified, perhaps this can be best done through direct engagement in the judicial process, in dialogue with the courts,’ it said.
In the two decades since the last major judicial pronouncement on this question in the Soosai case, a lot more evidence has become available. While some parts may be ambiguous and others subject to wide variation, this body of evidence when taken as a whole is unambiguously clear on the fact that there is no compelling evidence to deny SC status to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims.
A possible objection to the above argument, the report said, could be that it is negative and counter factual.
But, the report argues, SC status is a fait accompli for some groups and can hardly be undone. The historical legacy of such an unjustifiable anomaly can only be addressed by robust, evidence-backed reasoning followed up with a broad-based social movement to build popular support in favour of giving SC status to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians.